Category Archives: Archived

Madonna Plays Apartheid

It may be difficult for some to understand the impact that a pop icon has on social and political events, but these cultural figures possess enormous psychological sway in the minds of millions. Their actions make a difference. So it can be quite jarring when one of those icons goes against the justified demands of an entire people, especially when they have been oppressed and persecuted for decades.

This May Madonna is set to perform two songs at Eurovision in Tel Aviv. She will reach an estimated 180 million viewers. She has moneyed backing too. Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams has pledged to pay $1 million dollars for her performance at Eurovision. And she will simultaneously flip the bird to millions of Palestinians who languish under a brutal system of colonial oppression, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Madonna is no stranger to this controversy. In 2012 she launched her MDNA tour in Tel Aviv against the urging of BDS activists.

There is a dark legacy of pop icons who play in places where there is rampant oppression or injustice. In the 1980s scores of artists played Sun City, a resort in the Bantustan state of Bophuthatswana. A state with limited autonomy created by the racist regime of apartheid South Africa in order to forcibly displace Black South Africans from their lands. Dolly Parton, Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli were among the big headliners there and reportedly received millions for their performances. In 2009, Sting reportedly got £1 million playing for Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the notorious repressive leader of Uzbekistan. He was unrepentant about that gig.

In 2015 Nicki Minaj played for Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the repressive president of Angola who has been widely associated with human rights abuses and corruption. But Minaj wasn’t fazed by criticism. In fact, she laughed it off and inadvertently exposed the real reason these artists play in such venues in the first place. On Instagram she posted a photo of her and the daughter of dos Santos saying “Oh no big deal… she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world…. GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”

And therein lies the answer. Pop artists are products of an industry that is obsessed with wealth accumulation and privilege. In fact, they celebrate it as a virtue and promote the fallacy that wealth equates with liberation movements like feminism, personal success and agency. It is a fallacy that “motivates” them, as Minaj revealed. Indeed, the music industry, especially under late stage capitalism, churns out a banal formula for success, one deeply associated with wealth and power, uninterested in social, environmental or political movements. It shouldn’t be surprising then that most pop stars are consumed with this. They, like so many in the art and movie industry, are captivated by the excesses, bling and thrill of being connected with the powerful. Ethics be damned.

Many pop stars claimed in the aftermath of playing in repressive places that they were ignorant of the human rights, economic or environmental abuses. But Madonna cannot make that claim. In 2016 she paid $20 million dollars for a two story penthouse in Tel Aviv. She undoubtedly sees the headlines on Haaretz. She knows what is happening in that city to African migrants and refugees who are routinely demonized and persecuted by politicians and rightwing fascists. Migrants who are sent to internment camps in the Negev. She has undoubtedly heard about the Nakba and the refugee camps, and knows all too well what is happening now in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. She knows that Israel maintains a US funded army, navy and air force, and the Palestinians do not. She knows Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, subjecting nearly 2 million people to intolerable conditions that amount to collective punishment. Indeed, Gaza has been declared “unlivable” in many regards by the UN. She knows scores of unarmed protestors, as well as reporters and medics, have been gunned down in cold blood along the Gaza fence.

She knows about the checkpoints, settlements and the settler violence against Palestinian school children and villagers. She knows about the environmental terrorism of slashed olive trees and poisoned wells. She knows millions of Palestinians are subject to Israeli rule under the occupation without equal representation, the very definition of apartheid. She knows about the wall of separation that limits Palestinian access to their jobs, farmland, medical facilities and schools.

She knows Palestinians homes in the occupied West Bank are routinely demolished. And that scores of children are routinely whisked away in the middle of the night with no warning by the IDF, and taken to undisclosed detention facilities where they are often subjected to threats and violence and placed in solitary confinement, and then subjected to military tribunal unlike their Jewish counterparts who enjoy access to civil courts. She knows that Israel periodically flattens parts of Gaza killing scores of people with block decimating bombs and white phosphorus.  And she knows that under the racist Trump regime Israeli crimes against humanity have been given complete impunity.

In addition to this, Madonna knows this is not really about “building bridges of peace and understanding.”  She knows that there are millions of Jews around the world and many Israelis who vociferously and courageously oppose the occupation, apartheid and the continued oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians. People who are horrified at the fascistic lurch Israeli society has taken, especially in recent elections. People from organizations like If Not Now who represents Israeli soldiers who are speaking out about what they have seen and have been asked to do, and Jewish Voice for Peace who have implored her not to artwash or even pinkwash apartheid and to stand on the right side of history. She knows that there has been a call by Palestinian civil society for a non-violent boycott of Israel as long as it continues to commit these ongoing crimes. But she ignored them then, and she will undoubtedly ignore them now.

So for those expecting more out of Madonna they are bound to be disappointed. And this may be a hard pill for some to swallow at first. After all, I remember growing up and coming out to Madonna tunes. Her liberated sexuality and avant-garde style (at least in regard to Hollywood culture) was refreshing for a youth immersed in a society of puritanical repression and rigid social mores. In truth, I still listen to some of her songs on occasion when I wax nostalgic. Those icons represent a torch for many youth looking for a way out from under the boot of reactionary authoritarianism. But somewhere along the line something changes for most people with a conscience. The “icons” are forced to descend from their pedestals and become human, and like any human, they are understood to be subject to the enticements and corruption of coin and privilege. In truth, they cannot be expected to be anything more than a product of an ethics devoid industry and economic order itself.

Millions of people will watch Madonna perform at Eurovision, a European musical contest ironically being held in the Middle-East, Europe’s last enduring colony. She will present Tel Aviv as a bastion of European values in a hostile environment, surrounded by savages. Her message is a new branding for an old orientalism writ large for a new generation. One can only hope that her performance will cause some to dig deeper and see that human rights are either universal or they are nothing. And that there is no justification for playing apartheid. Not in South Africa 40 years ago. Not in Israel and Palestine today.

Kenn Orphan    2019

Crying Babies on a Plane

Crying babies on a plane. “Why me?” I mutter to myself. I’ve never had a baby. Indeed, I’ve never had a strong desire for progeny. But here I am, aloft in a hollow, metal, tubular nursery, hurtling through the lower stratosphere. Trapped amidst unpleasant (often unidentifiable) smells, cramped leg room, subdued existential panic, and those crying babies.
Then one of the little humans (who happens to be right next to me) reaches out a tiny hand and grips my arm. I try not to pay attention as I peer at my open book assiduously rereading the same sentence over and over, as if to memorize for an examination. Damn, I still can’t remember what I just read. I stay in my allotted sphere (a seat that I imagine was conceived and constructed by a small robot with limbs that can bend both ways).
My mind drifts to the spider monkeys I just saw days earlier. The one with her baby clinging to her back as she swung branch to branch above my head in the Yucatecan rainforest stands out in my memory the most. I reflect on the fact that they are among our closest relatives on this life drenched rock in space.
I feel a tug at my arm again and glance over to the little human seated next to me and she giggles, gurgles and smiles. Her mom jests, “Oh, she likes you.” I nod, “how old is she?” I ask. “10 months.” I smile and turn back to my book. Then I hear her father singing a custom made song to the little human to the melody of “Frosty the Snowman.” It sounds like “Luna the grouch-babe” or something like that. And Luna, the little human, grabs my arm again and giggles. Her tiny fingers pinch the hairs of my forearm. She squeals in a high pitch and flashes a toothless grin at me and her mother.
My mind drifts once again to those spider monkeys. Of their way of life. Of their threatened habitat growing smaller by the day. Of their family bonds and common aspirations for living. Of the fact that they are the only known spider monkey troupe left in this region of the Yucatan peninsula.
And I sigh and forget what I am reading again. I forget for a moment my impatience with being in this nursery of sorts. My misanthropic feelings ironically seem to dissolve when thinking of those monkeys while surrounded by the screaming infant voices of my kin. They fade into the ether of the airspace surrounding the metal tube I am lodged in while one of them gently pinches my arm.
“Why me?” I mutter to myself. “Why did that little human, the one named Luna, reach out to an oft jaded, old grump like me?” Then I smile to myself, check the time, and realize we are making our final descent. And I hadn’t even noticed.
Kenn Orphan   2019
Photo is a spider monkey in the Yucatecan Rainforest, by Kenn Orphan

Grieving in the Anthropocene

“Having a conscience now is a grief-soaked proposition” – Stephen Jenkinson, author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble

“We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris.”  – Paul Kingsnorth, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays

“The greatest challenge we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront our situation and realize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the difficult task of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.”  – Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization  

 

A few years ago I saw my first glacier. I was on a trip to Alaska with my family before my father died and he had always dreamed of seeing the region; so we were happy we could do this one last trip to fulfill it for him. We cruised through the Inside Passage past glimmering mountains of cerulean blue ice, drove through part of the Yukon Territory of Canada by turquoise lakes, and hiked close to a receding glacier. It was breathtaking, yet throughout the journey a specter of sorrow accompanied me.

In the West we are conditioned to chase those specters away. Grief itself is often viewed as something unnatural, as some kind of disorder to be dealt with by silencing ourselves, ignoring it or medicating it to numbness. We often hear well-meaning people suggest to the bereaved that they “keep themselves busy.” If our grief lingers, we are told that we are “depressed” or “not coping well” or that we need “closure.”

But like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. But so often we feel confined to an interior space that our culture has consigned us to.

Today we are bombarded with distraction. Our brains are flooded with carefully programmed and meticulously marketed algorithms that condition us to respond to screens rather than each other and the living planet. The dominant economic order robs us of our feelings, thoughts and even our grief and transforms them into capital and commodities for sale. Indeed, it is incapable of doing anything else. But many ancient traditions grappled with grief in a public way that was not exploitative.

Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Many indigenous cultures have elaborate rituals to mark the death of loved ones and the passage of bereavement. In the small fishing and farming community where my mother grew up every able bodied person was expected to follow the casket up to the cemetery in a solemn procession. And these public expressions of private grief provided a bridge of solidarity and community.

Now many of these traditions have been rejected or forgotten. They are vestiges buried by modernity; and in their absence a deep sense of alienation has grown. Facing our grief can be transformative. It can foster empathy and has the power to galvanize people to action. It cannot alter the past. It does not have the power to halt climate feedback loops or predict and prevent tipping points. And it cannot stop a looming biospheric and societal chaos that is all but locked into the system. But it can strengthen the pysche, offer us an insight into resilience, and give us the tools we need to resist the inhumanity that accompanies collapse. It can also help us appreciate and protect what remains.

I remember pouring over wildlife books when I was a boy, always dreaming of exploring their exotic locations in person one day. The natural world was at once terrifying and abundantly rich with mystery and wonder. Of course in those days I never thought I might witness its end. I never considered that the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world would succumb to a bleached death. I never thought that the Arctic Ocean would be ice free, or that it would rain in Greenland in winter, or that gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice would simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never imagined the Amazon Rainforest would suffer from catastrophic fires every year, or that 40% of wildlife would be sponged away from the living earth, or that plastic in the seas would be so ubiquitous that a bag would be found in the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench. Now, decades later, I have witnessed all of that and more. This is the reality of the Anthropocene, so with all of this it becomes impossible at some point for any rational human being of conscience not to grieve.

But on that trip years ago I had the opportunity to meet grief face to face. I stood alongside my father in silent reverence at the nature before us. At the time I could not have known that he would not be with me on this earth much longer. Perhaps some other sense did. Standing on the deck of the boat, passing under great mountains of melting ice, I felt that sense of awe that a child does. I also felt immensely small. My heart beat hard in my chest as I attempted to comprehend what my species and, in particular, my society has done to this precious life giving earth.  I felt the cold air from that melting glacier roll over me.  But this time I decided to not chase that specter of sorrow away. For a brief moment I wouldn’t view him as an adversary, but as a companion. So I embraced him like a long lost friend and he smiled at me and said, “What took you so long?”

Kenn Orphan  2019

The Blindness of Empire

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.” – Michael Parenti, Against Empire

“What do nations care about the cost of war, if by spending a few hundred millions in steel and gunpowder they can gain a thousand millions in diamonds and cocoa?” – W.E.B. DeBois

“It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, we are being asked to believe that the U.S. marines are actually on a feminist mission.” – Arundhati Roy, Come September

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti

Last week a startling meme showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. It pictured what was apparently the youngest US soldier fighting in the war on Afghanistan today, and noting that he was not even born when that war began. Perhaps what is more startling, however, is how quickly that shocking fact was buried. I imagine for many Americans it was simply one more news item to scroll on by.

It was about 1 ½ years ago that President Trump vowed to expand the US war in Afghanistan, now the longest one in American history. Started by George W. Bush (with the help of his father who made preliminary advances in the latter part of the 20th century) and maintained by Barrack Obama who happened to drop over 26,000 bombs around the planet in his last year in office alone, Afghanistan has become one of the most vital colonial assets to the American Empire. It has been called the “graveyard of all empires” a statement which tends to downplay the enormous suffering ordinary Afghans have had to endure through these imperialistic incursions over the centuries. But with each passing year that phrase appears to carry more weight. And as this assailed nation sits atop a treasure trove of rare earth minerals amounting to at least a trillion dollars, there is little doubt why the American Empire refuses to leave.

Militarism is essential to empire; but it is also its Achilles’ heel. This is because it exacts a heavy price and takes an enormous toll on the stability and capacity of a government to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. This is especially true of capitalist societies where profit flows upward to an increasingly smaller group of extremely wealthy people. While it spends trillions on war, it denudes its own society’s well-being in the process.

That the United States began by expanding westward across North America through violent ethnic cleansing, genocide and slave trade economics is no exception to the general course of empire. And in its short time on the world stage it has managed to become the most powerful dictatorship of capital wealth and money the world has ever seen. Here the ruling elite routinely buys the allegiance and voice of politicians and the media, and police and military agencies serve to protect the accumulated wealth of those upper classes. But like its forebears it is now an empire teetering on a precipice of social, financial and ecological catastrophe thanks to a convergence of climate change, endless exploitation of finite resources, and perpetual war to maintain it all. Join this with rampant corruption, gross social and economic inequities, a rising fascist element and the militarization of the police/surveillance state and a recipe for collapse is writ large.

Perpetual war is a hallmark of the American Empire. It has been in some kind of military action, occupation or intervention for at least 224 of its 243 years as a self-described republic. Yet despite the enormous and appalling healthcare, social and financial neglect of the working class veterans of its many wars, the magicians of the ruling class never cease in casting the spell of “American exceptionalism” over the general public. They routinely conjure up new villains and boogeymen, foreign and domestic, for ordinary Americans to project their animus, frustration and alienation on. Maduro today, Qaddafi a few years ago. Hussein some years before that. None of them were or are an actual threat to the American homeland, but they stood in the way of wealth and capital, the only thing the American ruling class truly cares about. And for that reason the lie of militarism and war must continue to go unchallenged.

In this way collective amnesia is induced every time a flag is unfurled or jets fly over a packed stadium. The illusion extends to popular entertainment. Themes of the “white savior” persist and are ubiquitous, giving American military exploits a veneer of nobility while masking its inherent racism. Even the American super hero genre continues to thinly mask an insidious militarism that almost always casts wealthy capitalists in an esteemed light while promoting a distinctly orientalist worldview. Others who happen to live outside the beneficent grace of capital, and in some cases within, who are in opposition to Empire, are vilified. This well financed and popular Hollywood generated mythology is no small thing since so much of the arts and humanities in the US have been greatly defunded or cancelled over the last few decades. And this has served to hollow out much of the conscience, awareness and critical thinking skills necessary for organized dissent to its violent, unending excesses.

But like so many other empires of history America is sleepwalking into calamity and, quite possibly, its quietus. Its ruling class, which includes the corporate media, routinely ridicules or renders invisible the warnings of its scientists. The moneyed and powerful from both ruling political parties continue to disregard the worsening plight of the working class. Infrastructure continues to crumble and the social safety nets that remain are riddled with holes. The police/surveillance state violently stamps out any real or substantive dissent. And the moral imagination of young people is diminished even as “reality” stars, the celebrity class, corporate executives and military generals continue to be put on pedestals. Most ordinary and working class citizens of the American Empire are perpetually repressed in a sort of prison of entrenched or intractable debt, terrified of being incarcerated or shot for a petty crime, and the growing costs associated with being sick, injured, educated, or housed. And all this while being ladled with guilt from the ruling classes who perpetuate the damning and willfully obtuse mythos of “self-determination” and “personal responsibility.”

It is no wonder, then, that the wide use of psychotropic medications and opioids, two of the most heavily marketed items, have become normalized within American society. Of course there are many cases where these medicated responses to human suffering are warranted, but at some point one must also see that there is a goal, whether conscious or not, to numb the senses of the public to the crushing weight of their alienation, oppression and disenfranchisement and, indeed, to the looming crises ahead. Even young children are heavily medicated should they show “antisocial signs” which conflict with the required conformity to a profoundly ill society. And this speaks volumes to a system incapable of grappling with the root of its malady.

To be sure, in its present form and on its present course the American Empire cannot be salvaged.  Nor should it be. After all, it represents a global capitalist class whose aim is nothing less than the full scale plunder of the planet via unending war on one side and utter contempt for the consequences of its ecocidal plunder on the other. And it must be understood that this is the reason for such a bloated military in the first place.

The US surpasses any other nation on the planet by far in military expenditure, but it would be foolish to think this is merely a sign of obsessive defense or excessive nationalism. While they are a component, the larger role of the US military is to protect the interests of global capital. It has no viable threats to its hegemony, especially following the fall of the USSR, so it invented the “war on terror,” a phantom that makes the US military into mere mercenaries in service to corporations and finance. While there are rivals like the Russian Federation or China, the US stills remains the most militarily powerful. Its client states including Canada, the UK, the EU, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil and beyond understand that role completely and accept it. And this global ruling elite does not care about the future of the planet in the least.

It should come as no surprise then that on the same day President Trump announced the expansion of America’s imperial reach he also disbanded an advisory council on climate change. This was not some denialist ploy either. Trump, or at least some of the moneyed class and elite brass who surround him, understand that climate change calamity is not only real, but imminent. Indeed, the Pentagon has done several studies on the unrest that would accompany the unfolding chaos, albeit with a focus on containment and paying special attention to the risk toward the private property and resources of the rich.

In fact in the short time following this decision the US has seen several major climate change caused catastrophes, including the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, the one Trump callously ignored and which claimed thousands of lives. To be sure, this is the primary reason for the “build the wall” campaign along the southern border. The ruling class understands that with drought and flooding comes famine, shortages and unrest. And all of the nations the American Empire has plundered to the south over the last two centuries will justifiably demand reparations. But Trump’s reasoning for disbanding the council on climate change is banal and simple. He merely does not want anything to impede or derail the flow of capital, and scientific evidence along with public panic might actually do that.

The only coherent response to any of this brutality is an unflinching solidarity among all who are oppressed by the Empire. Those who live at the margins of its selective beneficence. Those who have been disappeared or erased by its ruthless machine. And this, of course, extends beyond the artificial borders that it maintains. This solidarity must take the form of building communities of resistance and resilience that go beyond our personal or group identities. They must be about our status as an underclass within a ruthless global socioeconomic order bent on the rampant destruction of the biosphere for the profit of a few. These communities must be organic in origin and remain uncorrupted from the powers that be, because the unraveling of empire will undoubtedly be both chaotic and terrifying. And a ruling class that has remained drunk on its own purulent privilege, insulated to the real time suffering of the masses, and surrounded by the most elaborate surveillance/police state apparatus in history, will also be more belligerent and cruel when their power is finally challenged.

Indeed, the aim of the ruling class has always been the same: first to expand, then to crush, exploit, rape and plunder the vulnerable of the earth and the living earth itself for the gain of power and coin; and then to rewrite or erase them and their stories entirely from the pages of history. This much has never changed and it is aided today by a digitally enhanced, inverted totalitarianism, where self-censorship and bourgeois values of conformity to power not only go unquestioned, but are unassailably taken as absolute truths.

And this is why that story about the young American warrior, the one who wasn’t even born when the Empire began its bloody foray in Afghanistan, went buried so fast. It is why the memory of the dead civilians of Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Gaza, and Yemen, and Vietnam, and North Korea, and Laos, and Honduras, and Congo, and Indonesia, and so on, all victims of Empire, have also been buried alongside their bodies.

But we must remember also that irony is a gift of awareness most often missed by the powerful. So another thing that occurred on that day a year and a half ago might be seen as an omen. As he stepped out unto the White House balcony, appearing generally uninterested and even doltishly bumptious at the magnitude of the celestial event about to take place, Trump ignored the warning of scientists and stared briefly into the blinding rays of a solar eclipse without protective eyewear. And so it goes for the American Empire as it stares arrogantly into a blighted and brutal future, only seeing its own inflated greatness while the searing beams of reality scorch it all to ash.

Kenn Orphan   2019

 

The Global Assault on Indigenous Peoples

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” – Arundhati Roy

We must answer their call. Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated, demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a dignified way, in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of the Earth and of its spirits.” – Berta Caceres, Indigenous rights and environmental activist of the Lenca people, murdered in Honduras in 2016

A few years ago when I was in Panama I was fortunate to spend some time with the indigenous Ngäbe–Buglé. They reside in the lush rainforest that blankets much of the country. Their villages are simple, but graciously laid out with the natural world around them. The people have a reverence for wildlife, using only what they need; and culture, ancestral ways and community are paramount. But as in every other place on the planet they have been under siege by the forces of capital.

Dam projects largely devised to benefit mining companies have inundated scores of villages and devastated farms and fishing. Rare species like the Tabasará rain frog are threatened with extinction due to the loss of habitat. Four years ago a dam claimed a small indigenous village on the sacred Tabasará River. The villagers narrowly escaped drowning as their homes flooded in the night. They were given no warning.

In May of last year the river was shut down for maintenance on the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. Tens of thousands of fish and crustaceans were left to suffocate in the mud. Many more dam projects are planned for this small country. While the Ngäbe–Buglé have protested their dispossession and the destruction to their way of life, they have been met with threats, disappearances and violence from the state and operatives from various companies who stand to benefit from the projects. But the lords of capital, the banks, hold the most power. For instance, FMO Bank of Holland and DEG Bank of Germany were responsible for the Barro Blanco dam.

In stark contrast to the Ngäbe–Buglé way of life is the wealthy new high rise section of the capital, Panama City. Here glass and steel towers scrap an unforgiving hot Central American sky. Yet there are few sidewalks in this area. The moneyed elite drive directly into their palatial condos through secured garage doors on the street. There isn’t a need nor is there a desire to walk here unless you are poor.

It is a landscape of alienation repeated around the world from Jakarta to Manilla to Mumbai where the wealthy cordon themselves off from an ever growing peasantry behind gilded gates. But about an hour and a half away from the capital is the forgotten city of Colón where most of the inhabitants are people of colour and poverty is crushing. In truth, most of the extreme wealth entering the Panama Canal is concentrated in the ruling top .01%.

And this gets to one of the most tragic outcomes of these economic and ecological assaults: displacement. Millions of indigenous people around the world have been evicted from their ancestral lands only to wind up in the hellhole slums of megacities. Here they are most often locked in poverty, forced to abandon their culture and language for conformity, and forgotten by society. To be sure, this is the world that global capitalism envisions for us all.

But whether it is the Ngäbe–Buglé in Panama, or the Bonda in India, or the Wet’suwet’en in Canada, or the Papuan in New Guinea, or the Kariri-Xoko in Brazil, or the Aboriginal in Australia, or the Ogoni in Nigeria, or the Lakota in the US,the threat of annihilation is both real and imminent. Thanks to a system of global capital they are up against powerful forces that seek to strip the earth of every last resource for the profit of a few. And they will eliminate anyone who stands in their way. The NGO Global Witness reported that over 200 indigenous rights activists have been murdered around the world last year. A record. The activist Berta Caceres was a victim of this global crime. And today there is no sign of this carnage slowing down.

The assaults on indigenous people around the world bear one thing in common. These are the people on the front lines of a war for what remains. A war of resources that amount to enormous profits for the very few. Of course they have always been on that front line since the early days of colonialism. Days where outright genocide was common. But through the lens of catastrophic climate change and biospheric collapse the current economic order must be seen as the death cult that it is. Incapable of introspection or self-restraint. Drunk on their hubris and narcissism. Ominicidal in their pursuit of coin. And it is the indigenous who are closest to the living earth who stand most in the way of their plunder. They are rendered non-persons in corporate media and displaced or eliminated so that the flow of capital continues uninterrupted. And with capitalism itself on its last legs, that death cult is becoming ever more desperate, duplicitous, vicious and bold.

I remember when I was in Panama walking through a Ngäbe village on a balmy afternoon. Insects hummed around me. Tropical birds pierced the canopy of trees with shrieks. The humid air dampened my clothes. I could hear the sounds of children laughing as they came home from school. Old women hung out colourful clothes to dry and they immediately reminded me of Tibetan prayer flags. A young artist was sitting in his cabin with the door open carving a beautiful piece of fallen wood. He looked at me and smiled. “Welcome, and come in,” he said. I wonder sometimes what has become of him and that village. But I will admit I am afraid to find out.

Kenn Orphan   2019


What They Want Us To Forget

At least 50,000 people have been killed in the US supported war against Yemen by the medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with tens of thousands on the brink of a famine that is human caused. In fact, the US along with Canada and the UK continue to provide military assistance and arms to the kingdom. Yet no crisis has been declared by the US or its allies.

Over 10,000 people have been killed by US ally Duterte in the Philippines due to his supposed “war on drugs.” The vast majority were impoverished and non-violent ‘offenders.’ Yet no crisis has been declared by the US and its allies. In fact Trump has applauded Duterte’s crimes.

The UN has warned that the medical and water treatment systems of Gaza are on the brink of catastrophic collapse in just a few years thanks to apartheid Israel’s murderous siege in 2014 which destroyed infrastructure and its brutal blockade which has been in place for over a decade. Well over a million people, mostly children, are facing death. Scores of unarmed Palestinians, including children, nurses, doctors and members of the press, have been shot at and killed at the security fence when they protest their collective punishment and imprisonment. Yet no crisis has been declared by the US and its allies. In fact, Trump has ended US aid to the Palestinians.

The US backed military junta regime of Sisi in Egypt has executed hundreds of political dissidents following what are widely seen as show trials in kangaroo courts. Thousands more are in prison awaiting their fate. Yet no crisis has been declared by the US and its allies.

But in Venezuela, a socialist country that has suffered under US sanctions for years and where elections have been shown to be fair and equal, 42 people have been killed in clashes with government forces at violent “opposition” demonstrations. And there, a “humanitarian crisis” has been declared with the full weight of the US military behind it.

The message we are getting from the ruling elite is quite clear. We are supposed to believe that the US cares about the people of Venezuela. We are supposed to downplay the fact that Trump appointed a presidential pardoned liar and apologist for genocide in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s, Elliot Abrams, as envoy to Venezuela. We are supposed to ignore John Bolton’s comments on Fox News about how the Trump administration is in conversation with fossil fuel companies and that the US will benefit greatly from regime change. We are supposed to look the other way when the opposition raises US and Israeli flags in Caracas or when they use racist epithets and attack people of color. We are supposed to believe this is not about it being a socialist government, or that it has pivoted its nexus away from the US dollar, or that it sits on one of the world’s greatest oil, mineral and precious metal reserves. We are supposed to believe the corporate media’s manufactured crisis and ignore their selective outrage while they ignore every other humanitarian crisis mentioned above. We are supposed to forget how Libya and Iraq were “liberated” or the ruins their nations are today because of it. And to forget Honduras, and Chile, and Indonesia, and Congo and countless other places where US “humanitarian intervention” had led to atrocity, slaughter and devastation. We are supposed to forget about imperialism or its dreadful implications.

The most important job for people of conscience to do then is to remember it all. Remember every single lie, every single crime, every single mass grave. And to never let them forget.

Kenn Orphan  2019

*Cartoon is by Brazilian freelance political cartoonist, Carlos Latuff.

The Banality of Empire

This month freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar questioned Trump’s nominee for envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. While her interrogation was somewhat tepid in regard to American imperialism (she said “no one disputes” that the US goal has always been to support democracy and defend human rights), she did bring up the role of the US in the massacres in El Salvador in the 1980s. Massacres in which Abrams is implicated. It was also instructive in that it provided a visual to how deeply debased the American political landscape actually is. Abrams is a Presidential pardoned liar who provided cover for some of the most heinous war crimes of the 20th century. That he has reemerged again to lead a coup against the democratically elected government of yet another Latin American country is testament to the banality of American Empire and how uninterested it is in its own history or unending brutality and corruption.

The history of US imperialism in this region, like so many others around the world, is one drenched in blood. In 1954 a mercenary army hired by the United Fruit Company and assisted by the US government staged a military coup which overthrew the democratically elected, reform oriented, government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as the new president of Guatemala and thus began a military dictatorship that would span the latter half of the 20th century. The indigenous Maya of the country had long been viewed as sub-human by the ruling, Spanish descended, elite, a supremacist stain that remains to this day. Some Mayans and others protested their oppression under this neo-fuedalistic tyranny, but all Mayans were collectively punished, culminating in a multi-stage genocide that took the lives of at least 200,000 people and created millions of refugees. It was a presage to the current migrant crisis in North America.

Israel was also complicit in the genocide, supplying arms and training mercenaries.  In fact General Rios Montt, the military general who is largely blamed for directing the genocide, gave his personal thanks to both the US and Israel for assisting him conducting the systematic rape, torture and slaughter of the country’s indigenous population. Trained at the infamous School of the Americas Montt, who died in April of last year, was an evangelical Christian minister and a personal friend of ultra-conservative televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. This is instructive since we now have Christian dominionists like Pence and Pompeo at the helm. Montt was also unquestioningly supported and praised by President Ronald Reagan. “President Ríos Montt,” Reagan said, “is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

It is interesting to note that little has changed in the parlance of imperialists of both the liberal and conservative brand. Again, it is unoriginal. “Social justice” or “human rights” are used to justify “humanitarian intervention,” code words of empire for ethnic cleansing and genocide. We can hear it today and not only from Trump, but also in the corporate media and among the so-called resistance in the Democratic Party when talking about Venezuela. So it is worth re-visiting this dark page in Guatemalan history to expose what this banality provides cover for.

According to a 2004 report on the massacre by the Inter-American Court on Human rights, Montt’s forces:

“separated the children and the young women aged from about 15 to 20. Then the massacre began. First they tortured the old people, saying they were guerrillas, then they threw two grenades and fired their guns. Finally they sprayed petrol around and set fire to the house… [The next day, Buenaventura Manuel Jeronimo] emerged from his hiding place to see the destruction they had caused. Along with Eulalio Grave Ramírez and his brothers Juan, Buenaventura, and Esteban, they put out the flames that were still consuming the bodies. Those that weren’t totally charred showed signs of torture, as did the naked bodies of the youngest women.”

Another account was from a survivor:

“After having killed our wives, they brought out our children. They grabbed their feet and beat their heads against the house posts. I had six children. They all died, and my wife as well.. All my life my heart will cry because of it.”
– the only survivor of the San Francisco massacre in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

General Mott was charged with genocide, but his moneyed legal team successfully stalled due process of the trial on technicalities. He died without ever facing consequences for his monstrous crimes.

 

Repeat this story in El Salvador, Honduras and countless other places and a picture emerges of coordinated, US-backed and funded genocide. Stories that detail the rape of girls and young women, or the torture of children and the elderly, or the forced disappearances of boys and men, or the burning of countless villages and mass graves. But these stories get buried by the American imperial machine, especially when it involves the poor or people of color. We see that happening in the endless barrage of corporate media stories parroting State Department narratives on Venezuela. The poor, POC and the indigenous of that country who benefited greatly from Bolivarian reforms are rendered invisible. Their marches or rallies aren’t covered. Their voices silenced. But the middle to upper middle class protests are broadcast endlessly and sympathetically.

 

But as the American Empire attempts to build walls around its failing state to keep out the refugees its belligerent foreign and economic policies have created, it is simultaneously forging new ties with other repressive regimes or client states in an effort to secure the last remaining sources of capital left on the planet. And its interests in “human rights” are demonstrably a sham when its allies include Duterte of the Philippines who has slaughtered tens of thousands of people in his six year term, or the murderous King of medieval Saudi Arabia who ruthlessly represses his own people and is in charge of a genocidal campaign in Yemen, or Netanyahu, the openly racist prime minister of a decades long apartheid and ethnic cleansing regime, or the Hindutva nationalist Modi who presides over the merciless occupation of Kashmir, or the newly elected fascist Bolsonaro of Brazil, who has vowed to carve up the Amazon rain forest and slaughter indigenous people who stand in his way, and who is now poised to do Washington’s bidding in Venezuela. But the official narrative on these states is unsurprisingly drenched in duplicitous banality. Each is described as a either a democracy or an “ally against terrorism” or nation that “shares similar interests.”

 

But the ruling class understands that capitalism has become indefensible to anyone except the terminally deluded. This is especially true in the US where inequality is soaring, GoFundMe sites are set up to meet bankrupting healthcare and education costs, and more and more people are having to work more than one job that pays less, and live further from their work in order to afford housing. They understand the pressure is mounting against capitalist policies that favor the wealthy and corporations. Trump’s recent paranoid ramblings against socialism underscore the terror in their hearts. In a recent speech about Venezuela before some of his feckless and fawning fans he said:

“tyrannical socialist government nationalized private industries and took over private businesses. They engaged in massive wealth confiscation, shut down free markets, suppressed free speech, and set up a relentless propaganda machine, rigged elections, used the government to persecute their political opponents, and destroyed the impartial rule of law. In other words, the socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they’ve had a chance to rule. The results have been catastrophic.”

Of course capitalist governments have perpetrated such crimes via legalization of corporate monopolies which devastate small business owners. “Wealth confiscation” are code words for the wealthy avoiding taxation and the free market is a meaningless canard that obscures the power of a small moneyed elite’s control over the conditions of that market. Indeed, Trump’s disconnect with reality defies facts on the ground. About a year ago that United Nation’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, issued a report on the dire state of the American republic. It revealed that upwards of 40 million Americans live in poverty.

But Trump’s remarks on the suppression of free speech, propaganda, persecution of political opponents and the rule of law are simply delusional. Each one of those repressive tactics have been employed by the US government in service to corporate interests, and especially by his administration.

He went on to say:

“Socialism, by its very nature, does not respect borders. It does not respect boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach, and to subjugate others to its will. The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere — and, frankly, in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”

 

Of course to anyone who has even a basic education in imperialism understands this is preposterous given the fact that the US has nearly 900 military bases around the world and has invaded dozens of countries covertly and overtly in the name of freedom. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba have invaded none. But his fans loved it. Duplicitous banality goes far with that crowd. What was bizarre and telling is that his fears challenge the very dogma of capitalism that has been sacrosanct following the fall of the USSR. That was supposed to be an end to the “red menace.” But Trump has revealed that capitalism wasn’t as victorious as we had been told.

Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” erroneously signalling the moral dominance of capitalism and American Empire over the besieged USSR. Now Trump is feverishly building it up again because that same Empire has created a refugee crisis in regions it sought to control. But the specters of the Cold War are apparently hiding out in Venezuela, North Korea and Iran, nations that are coincidentally fossil fuel and mineral rich. What is equally telling is that so many American liberals have lined up with the man they have so enjoyed calling a racist, white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer these past few years. It is apparent that their true allegiance is to American imperialism above all else.

 

The American Empire may be in its final stage. Imperiled like everyone else by climate change chaos and an endangered biosphere, it is also facing the silent global abandonment of the US dollar and internal socioeconomic strife brought on by neoliberal policies which have stripped the rights of workers and the citizenry in favor of corporations and the police/surveillance state. But this only means that it will become more belligerent and delusional as it spirals downward. Its defense of capital, always its only raison d’etre, is no longer being hidden by lofty platitudes either. After all, its leaders are drunk on a hubris that accompanies a bloated military, the most expensive in the world. It is why they hypnotically repeat the line “all options are on the table” as if any rational person would think any other option other than militarism is seriously being considered. An example of this was when war monger extraordinaire John Bolton was recorded on a Fox News segment saying how he has been in touch with various fossil fuel companies who are gleefully awaiting a Venezuelan oil sector they can freely exploit. His risible “troika of terror” comment harkens back to GWB’s “axis of evil.” But there is little to laugh at when one considers the true cost of American imperialism. One paid for with the blood of the poor, the indigenous, the innocent, and the living earth itself.

 

We should not be surprised when men like Elliot Abrams resurface from the dark pages of history to provide cover for the crimes of empire. After all, imperialism is murderous, immoral and cruel, but it is unoriginal. And it is this banality that makes all of it so damned insidious.

 

Kenn Orphan   2019

The Belligerence of Empire in its Waning Days

Yesterday President Trump told an audience of feckless fans that:
“tyrannical socialist government nationalized private industries and took over private businesses. They engaged in massive wealth confiscation, shut down free markets, suppressed free speech, and set up a relentless propaganda machine, rigged elections, used the government to persecute their political opponents, and destroyed the impartial rule of law.
In other words, the socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they’ve had a chance to rule. The results have been catastrophic.”

 

No mention was made of the unending attacks and sanctions placed on Venezuela that make governance near impossible. But the greatest omission was the fact that the US is a dictatorship of money where scores of people are incarcerated, especially people of colour. Scores more are working low wage jobs and depend on food stamps and GoFundMe sites because they lack basic health coverage. Many more have crushing student loan debt, mortgages or exorbitant rents.

It was about a year ago that United Nation’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, issued a report on the dire state of the American republic. It revealed that upwards of 40 million Americans live in poverty. Among its findings:

+ By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
+ US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
+ US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
+ Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
+ U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
+ Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
+ The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
+ In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
+ America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
+ The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
+ The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
+ In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
+ According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
+ The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
+ About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%. Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).
Trump went on to say:
“Socialism, by its very nature, does not respect borders. It does not respect boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach, and to subjugate others to its will.
The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere — and, frankly, in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”
Of course this is risible to anyone who has even a basic education in imperialism given the fact that the US has nearly 900 military bases around the world and has invaded dozens of countries covertly and overtly in the name of freedom, but his fans loved it. It was as if Libya, Iraq, and dozens of other failures of imperialist intervention had never happened. One has to ask which nations exactly has Venezuela or Cuba invaded?
But so many American “liberals” have lined up with the man they have so enjoyed calling a racist, white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer in their feckless allegiance to American imperialism.
Strange times in the waning days of American Empire.
This illustration is entitled “School Begins: Uncle Sam lectures his class in Civilisation.” It is a blatantly racist representation of nations and territories that did not accept American dominance. The pouting pupils are labelled Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The well mannered and mostly white students apparently accept US lessons in “civilization.” It is was published in 1899 as a way to justify US imperialism. But it might as well have been published today.
Kenn Orphan   2019

The Ghouls of Capital

This strange obsession of the wealthy to pay large sums of money to hunt and kill rare species typifies this last and most ruthless form of capitalism. It is a collective form of psychosis in that these people must know in some shadowy precinct of their near deadened souls that species are going extinct by the thousands each year thanks to human activity, but believe that killing off what is rare will somehow make them feel more alive.
 
They betray their own pitiful, faux prowess and reveal the depravity of their own unmet grief at it all by extinguishing that life for a photo. But then that emptiness must rush in again and grip their nearly dead souls like a vice until the next paid kill.
 
I would like to say I feel sorry for them, but I don’t. Their loathsome and willful dearth of soul makes them appear like ghouls with craven jaws looking to devour the last remaining beauty of a dying earth. Are they any different than the so-called captains of industry who see pristine forests or mountain tops and think the removal of such for fleeting monetary profit as a good thing? Or of the military industry and weapons manufacturing sector which create uranium laced bullets or marine killing sonar? Or factory farm owners who house millions of sentient beings in squalid, tortuous conditions? Or fossil fuel companies who think an oil spill in a life drenched coral reef would be a ‘welcomed boost’ to local communities?
 
A philosophy that reduces the living earth to mere capital will in the end reduce humanity itself to dust.
 
Photo is of Bryan Kinsel Harlan, a trophy hunter from Texas, who was photographed with this glorious creature after he paid $110,000 to slaughter it in the northern Himalayan region of Gilgit-Baltistan. He said: “It was an easy and close shot. I am pleased to take this trophy.”
Kenn Orphan   2019

Greenwashing Climate Catastrophe

“With “capitalism in danger of falling apart” (a rare, cryptically honest quote from Al Gore), and years of stagnant global economic growth now in a free fall, the Greta campaign must be understood for what it is. An elaborate distraction that has nothing to do with protecting the natural world, and everything to do with the manufacturing of consent. The required consent of the citizenry that will unlock the treasuries and public monies under the guise of climate protection.” – Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer , from The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – For Consent: The House is on Fire & the 90 Trillion Dollar Rescue, 2019

“One might think that if someone were conscious enough to recognise that global ecology was compromised and that pollutants were destroying fresh water, and the land, and that global warming was quite possibly going to make huge swatches of land non arable — you might think that person would look for solutions in a political frame. After all it was global capital that had brought mankind to this historic precipice. But instead, many if not nearly all the people I speak with, frame things in terms of personal responsibility. Stop driving big diesel SUVs, stop flying to Cabo for vacation, stop eating meat, etc-. But these same people tend to not criticize capitalism. Or, rather, they ask for a small non crony green capitalism. I guess this would mean green exploitation and green wars? For war is the engine of global capitalism today. Cutting across this are the various threads of the overpopulation theme. A convenient ideological adjustment that shifts blame to the poorest inhabitants of the planet.” – John Steppling, Trust Nothing, 2019

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky, The Common Good, 1998

“Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion.” ― Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda, 1928

It is hard not to notice a stirring of consciousness regarding humanity’s dire ecological predicament beginning to seep into the mainstream these days. How can it not? Year after year records are shattered. Month after month scientists continue to be shocked and demoralized by more and more evidence of rising seas, a climate careening into a chaotic and terrifying unknown, and countless species succumbing in a biosphere perpetually under siege. Even the corporate media which has been designed as a mouthpiece of capitalist interests cannot completely veil our collective crisis. Unsurprisingly, the ruling class has begun to react, not in a way that meaningfully addresses the death cult of the current socioeconomic order, but to ensure its survival albeit with a greener face. Their cynical approach to what is the biggest existential crisis of our age is using youthful optimism and justified outrage and terror to cloud their machinations.

One such prominent youth these days is Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl who delivered a rousing speech at the UN Climate Change Conference and before the world’s wealthiest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Indeed, her speech was inspiring and I do not doubt her passion or honest devotion to climate activism for a minute, but to ignore the powerful machine looking to co-opt her message would be a grave mistake. For instance, Thunberg has been given interviews in the corporate press, has been endorsed by a tech start-up company (We Don’t Have Time), and has been lauded by industry for promoting “sustainable development.”

Now certainly Thunberg is not the one manipulating any of these actors, and she should not face any kind of criticism for her part in addressing the greatest existential issue of our times. But it should be clear that most people who get interviews in the corporate media are generally not deemed to be a serious challenger to the status quo political/economic order. Corporate approved dissent is a form of censorship that gives the illusion of a lively debate, but essentially establishes a firm line in the sand when it comes to radically questioning or opposing the capitalist framework itself. And if finance companies are behind something we can be pretty sure that they are primarily in it for the money. In addition to this, the term sustainable development is meaningless on a planet that is literally on the edge of a cliff, but under the dominant economic dictatorship of money the co-opted mainstream environmental movement has pumped out these tropes making them a form of collective social conditioning.

And this ties into the notion of personal responsibility. Solutions to our environmental crisis have been reduced to “life style changes” which have also become the en vogue activism of the day. It is a line of thinking that is accepted and even endorsed by corporations, banks and neoliberal governments because it poses no real challenge to their power or their ongoing destructive practices. To the mainstream, tweaking one’s lifestyle is all that is needed. Buy an electric vehicle or use a bicycle. Don’t take a plane on your vacation. Buy reusable bags. Choose organic only. Go vegan. Buy reusable straws. While there is nothing wrong with doing these things in general, they must be understood as individual choices that are based on privilege and that have little impact in addressing the urgent crisis our biosphere is facing right now.

What they do manage to do is deliver an added punishment on the poor and working class, people who are struggling to make ends meet. It places an unfair level of guilt on ordinary people whose impact on the environment is relatively negligible compared to the enormous destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry, mining companies, plastic and packaging production, shipping and the military industrial complex. Seldom (if ever) questioned are the basic foundations of the current economic order which is driving the decimation of the biosphere for the benefit of the wealthy Davos jet set.

It has in fact become only about “sustainability” despite the contradiction of sustaining a system that is at its core omnicidal. Corporations have been actively branding themselves with empty greenwashing euphemisms like “green” or “earth friendly” in the decades following the first Earth Day. It is as if our species were somehow alien visitors to this planet and being friendly to it was merely a diplomatic concern. Certainly a handful of corporations did in fact change some of their practices under public pressure and for the sake of image. Some of those changes had beneficial effects for certain species and areas. But the primary engine of capitalism that has led us to the brink of devastation is never questioned. It is sacrosanct.

With this in mind political solutions, like the Green New Deal, are being trotted out by democratic socialist and neoliberal politicians that merely cloak the problem, never identifying the root of it all: Capitalism. In fact, many of these policies are weak on protecting nature and are simply designed to keep capitalism afloat. At its core this is a system that is incapable of even beginning  to address climate change or biospheric degeneration. Its principles are based upon the exploitation of the environment for the material gain of the ruling class, kept alive through institutions of repression and corporate state violence. Under this rubric environmental causes may be soothed for some; but the poor and working class are continually battered and raped by industry and the corrupt governments that house and protect them. Indigenous peoples, who face the worst exploitation, continually see their lands desecrated and denuded by state policing factions at the behest of powerful corporations. And militarism, which is of course wedded to capitalism, ensures that all of this exploitation can continue and expand virtually unopposed by bourgeois society.

It may be a hard pill for many to swallow, but there are simply no viable answers to be found in Washington, or the hills of Hollywood, or the board rooms of Wall Street, or even at the United Nations which generally capitulates to the demands of the ruling class. They have molded each of these institutions, media industries and government bodies to fit their censorious narrative in order to suppress dissent against the current economic order, under which they so handsomely profit. And one would be wise to approach whatever they offer with great caution. After all, they have been labouring for years to dismember the commons, grow their inordinate wealth through plunder, and maintain their dominance through corruption, militarism and distraction. The sacredness of the public sphere has been defiled by the inviolable liturgy of free market dogma. And they have manufactured a culture of cruelty, devoid of character and predicated on colonization and the commodification and exploitation of everything and everyone that exists. In this way neoliberalism, the last and most ruthless stage of capitalism, has become the most elaborate and successful form of brainwashing and social control the world has ever known, convincing hundreds of millions of people of the absolute necessity of its economic tyranny and omnicidal madness.


But despite the machinations of the ruling class to obfuscate, infiltrate and co-opt movements, there remains a genuine longing for connection to the ever besieged living planet and solidarity with one another that transcends the indifferent and sadistic brutality of the capitalist order. This is especially true as capitalism begins to implode and the biosphere continues to degrade. Therefore the most coherent response to what we are witnessing will always come from ordinary people in community, especially the poor and especially indigenous peoples who are on the front lines of a war being waged by governments serving the interests of the wealthy ruling class and global capitalism. But we can be assured that anything that emanates from the halls of power will be merely another ploy to maintain their control and fill the coffers of the uber-rich at the expense of the rest of us and the living earth itself. And they have no problem using the innocent passion of a 16 year old girl to hide all of their crimes.

Kenn Orphan   2019